water@leeds blog

An interdisciplinary approach to tackling major water issues

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water@leeds visit: Norwegian STITA Tour

A party of over 30 visitors from Norway recently came to the University of Leeds to meet with water@leeds staff and discuss water management in agriculture.


The visitors arrived as part of a tour around farms in the North of England organised by STITA, a company that works closely with the agricultural community across the globe. Dr Paul Kay provided a seminar on countryside stewardship and its role in protecting water sources, rural diffuse pollution and other water issues associated with agriculture. During the seminar, Kay provided examples of work that the water@leeds team have been involved in, including comparing the different issues facing upland farming and lowland, largely arable agriculture, and work with Yorkshire Water to provide advice to farmers in drinking water catchments.

During the question and answers session, it became apparent that there are a great deal of similarities between the UK and Norway in relation to water management in agriculture. In particular, both countries face similar issues associated with Water Framework Directive (WFD) implementation, invasive species and diffuse pollution issues.

Svein Skøien, who was amongst the visitors to the university, has previously worked with the University of Leeds to help set up a PESERA (Pan European Soil Erosion Risk Assessment) application with Bioforsk/NIBIO in Norway. Sven stated that “We are at a high risk of soil erosion and have been looking for a way to update the system…Soil erosion effects the environment as it brings nutrients and sediments into the lake and causes a loss of soil for the farmers… This will affect food production in the long term, and it has been a priority to avoid soil erosion”. PESERA has sought to address this problem, and has created a model which is currently being used by the Norwegian government, influencing how it delivers millions in farm payments across the country to help reduce soil erosion and nutrient pollution of water courses.

The visitors also met with Cheney Fellow Dr Nikolai Friberg who is visiting from NIVA in Norway and Dr Brian Irvine who is a research fellow at the University of Leeds and part of the PESERA team.


written by Rosie Samuel


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Upland Hydrology Group at the CLA Game Fair!

Post by Viki Hirst, Upland Hydrology Group/water@leeds

All the planning paid off! We had a great weekend at the CLA’s Game Fair last weekend (31st July-2nd August 2015) at Harewood House.

Game Fair (Viki Hirst)

The Upland Hydrology Group stand

The Upland Hydrology Group wanted a stall at this year’s game fair to engage with landowners, farmers, gamekeepers and the general public to raise awareness of the importance of our uplands and the careful management needed to achieve the many benefits they provide us.

Game Fair (Viki Hirst)

Inside the Upland Hydrology Group stand

Over the three days we estimate we had over 500 visitors, interested in talking about management of the uplands. The rewards of beer, Allendale’s Old Sphagnum, for completing the quiz went down well as did our displays, which included a 1m core of peat dating back to AD800.

Game Fair (Viki Hirst)

One of the displays on the stand

We had different species of Sphagnum moss and a turf of heather on display, along with upland plants and Beadamoss (http://www.beadamoss.co.uk/page8.html) used in restoration projects kindly supplied by Micro Propagation Services (http://micropropagation-services.co.uk/page2.html). Also invertebrates from peatland pools included impressive dragon-fly larvae.

Quotes from visitors over the weekend :-
• When eyeing up the heather turf one small girl, probably aged around 4 said “ is that heather”, “yes” I replied. “ooh good, have you got a lighter so I can set fire to it?”…………..!
• Another happy customer told us we had the best and most informative stand on the whole show, with the loveliest of people. (She had just spent the last hour looking at guns with her husband……).

The stall was expertly manned by our members from the Environment Agency, Moors For the Future, University of Leeds, Countryside Training, and North Pennine Moors AONB – all of whom have gained many contacts.

Now we need to plan for our conference in January! So watch this space…

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Parasite turns shrimp into voracious cannibals

Interview and article by Chris Bunting, Senior Press Officer, University of Leeds

Parasites can play an important role in driving cannibalism among freshwater shrimp, according to a new study involving researchers from the University of Leeds, Queen’s University Belfast and Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

The study found that the parasite, Pleistophora mulleri, not only significantly increased cannibalism among the indigenous shrimp Gammarus duebeni celticus but made infected shrimp more voracious, taking much less time to consume their victims.

Dr Alison Dunn, Reader in Evolutionary Biology in the University of Leeds’ Faculty of Biological Sciences, who led the study, said: “Cannibalism is actually fairly common in nature. Our work is the first study to ask if cannibalism is affected by being parasitised.”

The research, published in Royal Society Open Science, reports that although consumption of juveniles by adults is a normal feature of the shrimp’s feeding patterns, shrimp infected with the parasite ate twice as much of their own kind as uninfected animals.

They attacked juvenile shrimp more often and consumed them more quickly than did uninfected shrimp.

Mandy Bunke, a PhD student at the University of Leeds who was the key researcher on the study, said: “Although the parasite is tiny—similar in size to a human red blood cell—there are millions of them in the host muscle and they all rely on the host for food. This increased demand for food by the parasites may drive the host to be more cannibalistic.”

Dr Dunn added: “The parasite is quite debilitating. It takes over huge areas of the muscle, so instead of a nice transparent shrimp you get quite a chalky appearance because of muscles packed with the parasite. Interestingly, our group has also found previously that infected shrimp may be able to catch and eat less prey of other animal species. Perhaps cannibalism of smaller shrimp is the only way these sick animals can survive.”

gammarus pair (Alison Dunn)

gammarus pair (Alison Dunn)

The latest study also found that uninfected adult shrimp were less likely to cannibalize infected juvenile shrimp than uninfected juveniles.

The study is important to understanding the extent of parasites’ influence on biological systems. The Gammarus duebeni celticus, the subject of the study, is being replaced in Irish waterways by the invasive species Gammarus pulex, which is native to Great Britain. The Open Science study suggests that the parasite Pleistophora mulleri may be playing a role in weakening Gammarus duebeni’s resistance.

Gammarus duebeni pair  (Rob Weedall)

Gammarus duebeni pair (Rob Weedall)

The research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

The full paper: Mandy Bunke et al., ‘Eaten alive: cannibalism enhanced by parasites,’ is published in Royal Society Open Science (2015) and is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsos.140369 (DOI: 10.1098/rsos.140369 ).

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Traditional water sources in Dhofar

The Arabian Desert is one of the most arid areas of land on Earth, a place in which Bedouins have experienced tremendous hardship in accessing water, particularly in the pre-oil era. In this short blog, I will shed some light on the Bedouin lifestyle in Dhofar and how they have coped with water shortage. The work draws on data collected during a three-year project to document the endangered Modern South Arabian Languages spoken in Oman and Yemen. The project is funded by the Leverhulme Trust and hosted at the University of Leeds. Further information about the project can be found under: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/arts/info/125219/modern_south_arabian_languages/ 

The amount of water available in the desert has never been sufficient to meet the demands of Bedouins. The Bedouin describe water in terms of two types: water fed by groundwater source and water fed by rain. The former type is a permanent source and the latter is temporary. However, desert dwellers cannot spend the whole year in the vicinity of groundwater sources as they sometimes have to migrate from one place to another in search of better grazing areas as rearing animals is imperative for Bedouin life.

In the Najd of Dhofar, the wadis of Andur and Habrut are the arteries of life in the steppe, as described by Bertram Thomas in Arabia Felix. Andur lies behind Jabel Samhan (approximately north of Mirbat) while Habrut lies in the western mountainous area of Dhofar. These permanent water-holes are surrounded by natural oasis palms and continue to be used for tribal meetings held between sheikhs and tribesmen when required. The two water-holes provide abundant water, food (palm dates) and shade.
The Bedouin move with their herds within the desert in search of rainwater to be found in water-pools (in Mehri maḥlīḳ) and puddles (in Mehri śtrīr). Rain provides them with the opportunity to return to the desert. Drought and the fear of being attacked by raiders compelled them to resort to mountain water sources despite their fondness for the desert. In the desert, rain clouds and lightning are the Bedouins’ compass. They usually dispatch scouting men ahead to check if the rainfall has been adequate for grazing and water.

The pressing need for water forced Bedouin ancestors to invent techniques for the purposes of collecting and prospecting for water. Water would be carried in waterskins made from the complete hide of a goat (in Mehri nīd), shown here.

Goat-leather waterskin

Goat-leather waterskin

Prospecting for water involves the creation of waterscrapes (in Mehri maḥsāt) which were widely used by Najd inhabitants in the desert. To determine whether a place had sufficient water to warrant digging, they would lift a heavy stone and drop it down on the ground and listen for an underground echo that might gauge the depth of groundwater. If water was deemed to be present, a waterscrape would then be dug with simple digging tools whilst milk bowls (in Mehri ḳālīw) were used as shovels. The depth of waterscrape holes could be as much as the height of a man and required the use of milk bowls and goatskin water bags to draw the water up for use.

Waterscrape being covered to prevent livestock falling in

Waterscrape being covered to prevent livestock falling in

Traditional milk bowl

Traditional milk bowl

These approaches to water discovery and collection have changed in the post-oil era sodocumenting and disseminating traditional techniques and traditional views of water to present to future generations is extremely important, and in this project we hope to be able to produce audio and audio-visual documentation of many such practices.

Author: Saeed al-Mahri, School of Languages
Photos by Janet C.E. Watson and Domenyk Eades

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University Academic Fellowships at the University of Leeds

Are you one of the 250 Great Minds we are looking for?250 Great Minds

The University of Leeds is seeking to recruit up to 250 exceptional early career academics to tenure track equivalent Academic Fellowships over the next three years. There are 250 in total all with a closing date of 16th November 2014.

We are delighted to announce that 7 of these exciting opportunities fall into the theme of water!

The world’s most pressing water issues demand innovative water research, management and policy. The University of Leeds is rising to the challenge through water@leeds, the largest interdisciplinary water research centre of its kind in the world.

Examining the impact of growing global populations, increased water consumption, and shifting climate, rainfall and land use patterns, water@leeds has an internationally recognised track record of knowledge transfer and collaborative research and development. With high-profile and well-established partnerships with charities, industry and government, it delivers world-class intelligence and is inspiring industry and commerce to be more innovative in tackling these global water challenges.

University Academic Fellow in Aquatic Ecology

Water is increasing in value and declining in availability across much of the world, while hydrological processes are undergoing rapid change under a fluctuating climate.  Central to the increased efficiency of exploitation and preservation of the world’s freshwater is an understanding of the abiotic and biotic processes that underlie water-related ecosystem services. A new Aquatic Ecology Research Group (AERG) has formed as part of water@leeds, with a core of internationally excellent ecologists from the Schools of Biology, Geography and the Faculty of Engineering.  AERG’s 5 year aim is to be recognised as one of the strongest aquatic ecology groups in Europe. Read more here on the water@leeds website.

University Academic Fellow in Biogeochemical Modelling

The Palaeo@Leeds and Cohen Geochemistry research groups are both peaks of excellence within the School of Earth and Environment (SEE) with successful track records of both 4 star output and winning grant income.  You will build on these key areas of strength with your expertise in biogeochemical modelling.  You will bridge the divide between laboratory-based and numerical modelling-based science and will provide rigorous quantified deep-time scenario testing, and a link between our modelling efforts in recent time periods with those in much more ancient geological Epochs. Read more here on the water@leeds website.

University Academic Fellow in Environmental and/or Medical Humanities

The growth fields of medical and environmental humanities are ones in which the School and Faculty are developing significant reputations. Both areas have seen major successes in grant capture through HERA, AHRC and WUN initiatives in recent years, involving colleagues from across the School working in different historical periods and drawing on cross-Faculty and Interdisciplinary work in the Leeds Environmental Humanities Initiative, the Institute for Colonial and Postcolonial Studies and the Leeds Centre for Medical Humanities. The School aims to build on these successes by appointing a Fellow working in or across these two subject areas. Read more here on the water@leeds website. 

lab image

University Academic Fellow in Freshwater Ecology

The School of Geography and water@leeds have expertise in land management, soils, hydrology, freshwater quality, water treatment processes and human use of water.  A new Aquatic Ecology Research Group (AERG) has formed as part of water@leeds, with a core of internationally excellent invertebrate, parasite and algal ecologists from the Schools of Geography, Biology and the Faculty of Engineering.  AERG’s 5 year aim is to be recognised as one of the strongest aquatic ecology groups in Europe.  We seek to build further capacity in this area by appointing a Fellow who can bring complementary high-quality expertise in freshwater ecology. Read more here on the water@leeds website.

University Academic Fellow in the History of Health, Family and the Everyday

You will be an outstanding participant in the lively research area of the social and cultural history of health, making a distinctive contribution to knowledge by shedding light on how personal experiences have changed over time; and engaging with, and contributing to, important current debates on historical methodologies and scales of historical analysis. You will work to strengthen existing internal and external collaborations on perceptions and experiences of health, illness and the family in the past, and into the present day, in order to develop a new impact case study in collaboration with other members of the School of History’s Health, Medicine and Society research group. Read more here on the water@leeds website.

University Academic Fellow in Public Health

As a UAF in Public Health Engineering you will bring expertise in measuring health outcomes and/or economic impacts of engineering measures that are designed to improve public health. You will embed this expertise within the School and you will develop collaborations with researchers at Leeds and other institutes to link the technical engineering perspective with other relevant disciplines. You will lead the development of research studies that bring together technical and economic and/or health impact analysis, with a focus on infrastructure-based interventions. Read more here on the water@leeds website.

University Academic Fellow in Water-Related Hazards

Water-related risks from natural hazards such as flooding, debris/mud flows, landslides, etc. pose increasing threats due to urbanisation, economic growth and climate change. Long-term and short-term impacts on well-being and economic growth pose a global and local threat and the risk is inter-related due to any increasing globalised economy and society. The responses available to individuals, communities, businesses and government agencies are diverse: physical protection, natural processes, behaviour change, stakeholder engagement, emergency & spatial planning, insurance. Read more here on the water@leeds website.

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Latest job vacancies with water@leeds

We currently have two great opportunities to work with water@leeds.

Water@leeds Doctoral Research and Training Centre Manager

Closing date 9th October 2014

We are looking for an enthusiastic and motivated water expert to help lead and co-ordinate exciting new initiatives in water@leeds. water@leeds is already recognised as one of the largest interdisciplinary centres for water-related research, innovation, and training in the world. We seek to generate world-leading research and innovation which has major impacts on society, environment and the economy, to maximise the effectiveness of research and impact funding in the water sector by becoming the focus for interdisciplinary water research and to train new innovative, excellent and interdisciplinary water experts to work at the cutting edge of water research, management and policy.

Your primary role will be to: (i) identify and coordinate large, strategic water-focused framework and other tenders and funding applications, and (ii) establish and manage a new water@leeds Research and Doctoral Training Centre (DRTC) for water-related training, research and innovation. Both aspects of the role will involve significant engagement with external, traditional and non-traditional funding providers, research users, and working collegiately across the breadth of water@leeds. This is primarily a leadership role, however there will be opportunity for the successful candidate to supervise PhD students within the DRTC.

We expect you to have a Ph.D. and significant postdoctoral experience in a research and innovation focused environment, including successful submission of funding proposals to commercial and/or end-user bodies in a relevant water-related field or sector.

For further details and to apply please visit the University of Leeds jobs website

Lecturer / Associate Professor in Ecological Economics

Closing date 30th September 2014

We are looking for an enthusiastic and self-motivated ecological economist with relevant water-related research interests to develop and enhance links across water@leeds and to key stakeholders. You will be able to apply socio-economic analysis, valuation and/or modelling techniques to understand water and other environmental issues from an interdisciplinary perspective. You should have a PhD, research experience and publication track record relevant to the area and grade of the appointment.

We particularly welcome candidates with the ability to bridge analysis and policy, and build research with relevant business and public sector stakeholders.The Economics and Policy Research Group within the Sustainability Research Institute at Leeds has a strong track record in applying a range of economic approaches to understand energy and climate change, water and other environmental issues, as well as exploring the wider relationships between environmental limits, human well-being and the economy. The Group consists of 20 academic and research staff and over 25 PhD students. This is an opportunity to join a team that directly influences international and national policy, and bring new approaches to analyse the economy, water and environment. The team participates in a number of large interdisciplinary national research centres (CCCEP, UKERC, iBUILD, UK INDEMAND), leading to excellent opportunities for developing collaborative research.

Further details of the post and an application form can be found here on the University of Leeds website.

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Microscopic ‘Saturn of the Moors’ discovered

Interview and article by Sarah Reed, University of Leeds Press Officer

A species of alga that resembles the planet Saturn has been discovered for the first time in the British Isles.

The algal species, which is classified as Saturnella saturnus, was discovered by PhD student Jeannie Beadle from the School of Geography at the University of Leeds. Her research looks at pools of water created by peatland restoration measures in the Pennines, such as drain-blocking, with this particular find coming from Moor House-Upper Teesdale Nature Reserve in March 2014.

Saturn of the moors

“I’m really pleased to have shown that drain-blocking is genuinely helping biodiversity. It’s evidence like this which helps land managers to justify the money spent on peatland restoration measures,” said Beadle.

After World War II, many peatlands in the UK were drained using shallow ditches with the aim of drying out the peat to make it more suitable for forestry and land grazing animals.  However, the process has since been shown to be largely ineffective and also damaging to peatland ecosystems.

The blocking of drainage ditches began in the 1980s in an attempt to restore the peatlands to their former boggy state, with most of the pools being created in the last decade or so, when restoration programmes became more widespread.

Beadle concludes: “As well as looking at algae, I’ve sampled about 150 artificial pools for macroinvertebrates, which I’m currently sorting and identifying, so there may be further interesting discoveries later this year. However, I doubt any will be as beautiful as this Saturn of the Moors.”